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Saturday, October 31, 2020

How Iga Swiatek reached the French Open final

Iga Swiatek has put in a run of form that can be likened to that of an experienced campaigner.

Written by Shahid Judge | October 9, 2020 11:10:24 am
Paris: Poland's Iga Swiatek clenches her fist after scoring a point against Argentina's Nadia Podoroska in the semifinal match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. AP/PTI(AP08-10-2020_000211B)

This may only be the second year she’s competed at the Grand Slams, but 19-year-old Iga Swiatek has already made her mark. The talented, yet unfancied at the start of the tournament, World No 53 has put in a run of form that can be likened to that of an experienced campaigner. And in her semi-final match against — another unlikely player to reach this far in the competition — qualifier Nadia Podoroska of Argentina, the teenager romped through to a 6-2, 6-1 win in just 70 minutes.

It’s a result that made her the first Polish woman to reach the French Open final since 1939, and the youngest player since Kim Clijsters in 2001.

Here’s how she played the semi-final.

Accurate stroke-making

Swiatek has an aggressive all-court game. She doesn’t shy away from coming to the net for the volley, has the eye of trickery with delicate drop shots, and puts a good amount of power in her strokes off both wings. She also has the tendency of going for angled shots, which is what she did against Podoroska to great effect.

The teenager struck her shots with purpose, especially her backhand — using an inside out two-hander on multiple occasions.

If the Argentine managed to retrieve those angled strokes, Swiatek was left with an empty court to finish off the point. There were 23 occasions when Podoroska couldn’t get there, handing her opponent the winner.

In all, Swiatek had 23 winners against the Argentine’s six – both hit 20 unforced errors each.

Anticipating Podoroska

In her quarterfinal match against third seed Elina Svitolina, Podoroska played the drop shot 18 times. Swiatek, however, knows a thing or two about drop shots herself.

Last year, she won the WTA Shot of the Year Award with a cross-court drop shot from the baseline. And on Thursday, she showed a keen sense of anticipation, racing up to the net to retrieve Podoroska’s delicate dinks over the net, and reaching there in time to play an effective return. Swiatek countered those shots early in the match. As a result, the Argentine didn’t try the drop shot as often.

Strong returns

So far, Swiatek has broken her opponents across six rounds 32 times – including five in the semi-final.

At the same time, she has won all her matches without dropping more than five games per match. It’s a run of form that has seen her oust last year’s runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, before coming up with a brutal 6-1, 6-2 win over tournament favourite Simona Halep.

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